After a pretty strong Episode 2, ‘Bates Motel’ returns this week with an even stronger third episode, which should remind loyal viewers of just how much fun this show used to be back when it first came on the air. The dark humor is back, the tone of the series is creepy once again, and – wow – if Freddie Highmore doesn’t get an Emmy nomination based on his performance in this episode alone, I’ll be shocked. He’s fantastic this week.
This week’s entry gets underway with Norma being called down to the morgue to ID a body that Sheriff Romero believes might be Annika. Yes, this is the body seen floating at the end of last week. However, it turns out not to be Annika, although it looks like it might be another call girl who attended the party at the hunting club. Norma returns to the motel and tells Norman the good news. Norman wants to find out more, but Norma insists that it’s not their problem and they need to stay out of it.
Norma has signed up to take a Business Marketing class at a local college, but runs into trouble the very first day when she refuses to give up her seat to a guy who turns out turns out to be the professor. Causing further embarrassment, Norma also realizes that she’s in the wrong class entirely. He’s teaching psychology.
Romero heads back up to the hunting club to have a sit-down chat with a man named Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm). I’m pretty sure this is the same guy who was in the cabin watching people have sex when Norma sneaked onto club grounds last week. The sheriff has some questions for Bob about the dead girl, but Bob isn’t talking. Instead, he brings up Romero’s failure in letting the DEA swoop into White Pine Bay and confiscate the town’s marijuana crop, as well as the fact that the sheriff will be up for re-election soon. It doesn’t sound like these two guys are on the best of terms.
Romero visits the Bates’ home, asking to talk to Norman about the dead girl. Norma is opposed to the idea, but Norman insists that he’s perfectly capable of answering a few of Romero’s questions without his mother hovering over him. When Romero shows Norman a photo of the victim, Norman gives the odd response, “No, I’ve never seen that one.”
One of the reasons this episode is good is that it doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with Dylan and Caleb up at the marijuana farm. However, they’re not totally left out of the episode. When some girl drops a bunch of marijuana plants off at the motel for Dylan, Emma has to pack then into her little VW Beetle and drive them up to the farm. While she’s there, Caleb introduces himself, and Emma remembers Norman telling her that Caleb raped Norma. Dylan asks Emma not to tell either Norma or Norman that she saw him there.
As Norma is leaving class at the college, the psychology professor approaches her. He wants to apologize for being such a dick the previous day, and he wants to offer some therapy sessions to her. He gives Norma his card and leaves. Norma crumples it up and throws it on the ground, but quickly changes her mind and picks the card back up again.
At the police station, Romero is still investigating the dead girl when a man named Marcus Young (Adetomiwa Edun) comes strolling in. Marcus introduces himself as the other candidate running against Romero in the upcoming election. Romero assures him that he’s never going to see the inside of the sheriff’s office again and shows him the door.
The best parts of this week’s episode are the last couple of segments. Norman and Norma get in a big fight about how Norma has basically been treating Norman like he’s guilty. Norman runs off to the bathroom alone, where he splashes some water on his face and then has a vision of his mother (just like the one he had during the lie detector test in the Season 2 finale). His hallucination tells him to fill the tub with water and submerge himself, and then maybe he’ll be able to remember how he killed Annika. Norman does so, and starts having flashbacks in his mind, including those involving his former English teacher, Ms. Watson.
The real Norma eventually comes looking for Norman, and gets concerned when the bathroom door is locked. She kicks it open on her first try (nice job!), and finds Norman underwater in the bathtub. She pulls him out, wraps him up in some blankets and tucks him into bed. Still highly upset, Norma runs crying down to the motel’s office. She sees headlights approaching and a woman staggering out of a car. It’s Annika – but she’s bleeding from a gunshot wound and collapses to the ground. Before she dies, she places something in Norma’s hand and tells her to use it for herself and her son. Norma goes into the office to dial 911, and opens her hand to see what Annika gave her. It appears to be a computer flash drive.
The highlights this week are the various fights and conversations that Norma and Norman have with each other. The argument before Norman goes off to the bathroom alone really sticks out. It allows Freddie Highmore to show his range as an actor, and allows the character of Norman to show a hint of how violently dangerous he can get when upset.
This episode also introduces us to three new characters (the psychology professor, Bob Paris, and Marcus Young), all of whom appear will presumably play significant roles in future episodes. Bob is obviously the Big Bad for this season, though it remains to be seen if Marcus Young is a good guy, a bad guy or just a smug annoyance for Romero. You want to tell the professor to start running, as no man who gets close to Norma (with the possible exception of Romero) has ever met a good end.
It does seem a slight cheat by the writers not to have the woman discovered at the end of last week’s show be Annika, and then bring her back at the end of the episode only to kill her off – but that’s the way life (and death) seem to go in White Pine Bay.